Nev., 2-21-2005 (Updated 2-27-2005)
labor leader Tom Stoneburner died of a massive heart attack at his
home in Palomino Valley north of Sparks. He was 60 years of age. His
colleagues at Circus-Circus Hotel-Casino in Reno are devastated, as
are his many friends and associates in the Nevada labor movement.
We have lost a great champion. Stoney worked his heart out for Nevada
workers and the proof lies below. All of Nevada labor mourns. Our
hearts weep for his wife, Kathy, and his family. Watch this site for
new information as it becomes available and say a prayer to your conception
of the Almighty to grant Stoney godspeed on his journey home.
FIRST IN HISTORY. He organized and won back-to-back union elections
for security guards at two major Reno hotel casinos. The 1994 election
at Circus Circus was the first time in Nevada history that any group
of casino security personnel had voted in favor of group representation
by forming a union. The Circus Circus win generated other organizing
drives, most notably at the Reno Hilton in 1995. The hotel management
refused to bargain in good faith toward a contract, so Stoneburner,
by then president of United Plant Guard Workers of America Local 1010,
took the workers out on strike.
His timing was perfect. The 1996 Hot August Strike at Hot August Nights,
northern Nevada's biggest special event, resulted in a contract with
the region's largest resort property. The union, now renamed the
Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), still
represents the Reno Hilton guards. See http://nevadalabor.com/barbwire/barb99/barb12-12-99.html
Circus Circus never came to a contract and implemented a series of
delaying actions until the pond could be stocked with anti-union new
hires and a decertification election held. SPFPA
Local 824 won an election to represent security staff at the Flamingo
Hilton in Laughlin, Nev., several years after the Reno Hilton contract.
They secured their first contract in 2001 and now represent almost
the entire security staff at the southern Nevada resort on the Colorado
River. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I apologize for the first news bulletin about
Stoney's passing which failed to take account of the Laughlin local.]
Stoneburner's experience with the difficult and near-impossible roadblocks
thrown up by federal and state law against union organizing led him
toward helping those who were not only without a union, but would
probably never enjoy the benefits of one. In doing so, he paved the
way for the guerrilla union campaigns of the future.
He formed the Alliance for Workers Rights in 1997 to champion those
without a voice. While still maintaining his full-time job at Circus
Circus, Stoneburner worked tirelessly for the least among us. He
championed the cause of workers killed and injured in Nevada industrial
At one point, Stoneburner even helped raise and arrange for shipment
of felled workers bodies back to Mexico. Perhaps his many years of
tireless activity in his "off-hours" proved too much, ending
his time early. Maybe Tom Stoneburner died for the sins of those who
abuse so many for the sake of 30 pieces of Silver State silver.
Against heavy odds, he
chose to fight, and often win, the great issues of his time. Expensive
and repressive "permission to work cards" or "police
cards" are now much more uniform. Until about two years ago,
someone working two jobs in adjacent cities would have to pay for
two work cards and background checks. Tom Stoneburner was in the forefront
of changing archaic local laws and moving toward a uniform statewide
Stoneburner fought the Sparks City Council in a continuing series
of skirmishes when the city criminalized looking for work. Day laborers
seeking employment in front of the state casual labor office on Galletti
Way in the Rail City were continually rousted by Sparks police. Many
could not avail themselves of the services of the state office because
it provided no Spanish-speaking workers to assist them. The state
finally hired some bilingual staff and the city and the Alliance for
Workers' Rights have had a truce for the past two years.
In January, 2001, Stoneburner signed a groundbreaking agreement with
the Nevada Department of Agriculture to provide Spanish translators
to assist during state inspections. The contract, signed January 9,
2001, was "expected to increase fair treatment and safety for
immigrant workers at greenhouses, nurseries and landscape service
companies." (Daily Sparks Tribune 1-14-2001) Stoneburner's triumphant
press release read "Immigrant Farm Workers Break Sound Barrier."
Stoneburner advocated the creation of a state ombudsman for farm workers
who have few rights under the law. (Reno Gazette-Journal guest editorial
2-3-2001) Somewhere, Cesar
Chavez was smiling.
a network to assist fired Sundowner Hotel workers who were left
without health insurance, jeopardizing the lives of some who could
no longer afford vital medication.
WORKING FOR WORKING WOMEN. Stoneburner
garnered worldwide attention for oppressed Nevada workers by supporting
Harrah's bartender Darlene
Jespersen, who was fired by Harrah's-Reno for the sin of refusing
to wear makeup after 20 years of exemplary service without it. Stoneburner
organized "Boss, Kiss My Foot"
picketing demonstrations in both Reno and Las Vegas to sensitize the
casino industry to the permanent maiming of their cocktail servers
caused by mandatory spike heels. Several major gambling corporations
eventually changed to a more foot friendly policy.
The Alliance's accomplishments and initiatives in various states of
progress over the past seven years are truly almost too numerous to
mention. Here are a few:
- Tip Tax Reform
- Unemployment Appeals Reform
- The Kiss My Foot campaign
- Work Card Reform
- The Farmworkers Project
- The Day Laborer Project
- Industrial Plant Safety
Stoneburner hosted a public
access television show entitled "Alliance for Workers Rights"
which still airs on Washoe, Carson and Douglas channels. He taped
his last two programs on Feb. 11.
Both of the programs centered around his
last crusade to help recently stiffed and stranded construction workers.
He was visibly upset and shaken at what he termed outright thievery
by employers who refused to pay their employees. He was personally
and emotionally invested in winning justice for the homeless construction
workers who remain owed about $96,000 in back wages.
Perhaps this fight was one too many for someone who had worked around
the clock for so many years.
Nevada workers have lost a great and innovative champion. Nevada unions
have much to learn from Stoneburner's tactics of essentially bringing
workers together in a concerted manner the very definition
of unions under federal law while bypassing the expensive,
time-consuming, often perverted and usually unsuccessful election
Stoneburner showed how community organizing, public pressure and media
savvy could often be more effective than garden variety techniques.
A laundry list of labor luminaries recently published a
long editorial advising organized labor to make some radical changes
in its methods of operation.
They both reinforce and expand upon reforms being considered at the
highest levels of the union movement. Well and good, but let them
all look at the accomplishments of Tom Stoneburner first. Does any
Nevada union currently produce its own regular television program?
13, 2002, the Nevada State Legislature's Legislative Commission Subcommittee
on Industrial Explosions considered two of Stoneburner's proposals.
One stands out: "Amend NRS (Nevada Revised Statutes) criminal
statutes that apply to cases of negligent homicide, manslaughter or
involuntary manslaughter to include prosecution of corporations, executives
and managers of corporations, who knowingly or negligently cause or
allow conditions to exist that result in the death or serious injury
of workers. Empanel a task force to recommend to the Legislature and
Governor laws designed to help protect Nevada's workers through prosecution
of persons who violate workplace safety standards."
The legislature is now in session. Does any lawmaker have a spare
bill draft available for the Tom Stoneburner Worker Safety Act of
2005? Let us know and we'll be there to support it.
More details will be published here as they become available. Memorial
statements and remembrances will be most welcome and published.
column in the Sparks Tribune
will be a more personal set of stories about my friend Stoney.
Be well. Raise hell.
querido compañero Stoney